‘Get rid of bad managers’
Do we get better from bad managers? Not really. Neither the organization, nor you, because you have to hang out with him or her every day. Bert Overbeek wrote a book about the subject to help organizations but especially employees to get rid of leaders that are a catastrophe for people and processes at the workplace.
It is known that people can get pretty sick from a bad relationship with their manager. In a world where numbers dictate business rhythms, it’s difficult for top management or boards of directors to determine how poorly some of their management executives are performing.
So -Overbeek maintains in this interview- you have to make that visible as an employee. But you have to do it very intelligent, otherwise you’ll lose this battle. You have to do it with a strategy. First you have to see through the games that a bad executive plays with you and you have to be on the lookout for his counter moves. You need to know precisely what is effective and what is not effective.
Source: Noord-Hollands Dagblad, December 2013 (Newspaper of North Holland)
Let me go straight to the point. In this 2013 book, you advise employees to turn off their social sense and empathy to get rid of bad managers. That is quite something.
(laughs) Don’t isolate the conclusion of this book. First ask the question: what is the book actually about? Well, it is about genuine bastards, the men and women who live for status and their own ambitions only. About people who work their way up at the expense of others, the narcissists. Selfcentered people who work in such a sophisticated way that the management layers above them are fond of them. However, employees suffer greatly from them. Those are the bad managers of this book.
But to fake a sick leave as you suggest?
That falls into the “humor sense” category. Irony. The tips in the book at the end are meant to be half serious, half funny. You see, what matters is that the reader should feel that he has to pull out all the stops to get a sneaky manager out of his place. And that he should not attack naively, because then he himself will be the loser.
I don’t know if it’s always easy to tell when you’re serious and when you’re not.
I understand that. I would do that differently now than in 2013, when the book came out. It must be clear where the book is serious, and where it works with witticisms. In hindsight, that could have been done better. I was a little less experienced than I am now, after my five books with Futuro Publishers and two with Haystack Publishers. You learn a lot from writing at publishers. ‘Bad chefs’ has never been ccorrected by an editor-in-chief.
Good. Now let’s talk about the book itself. You call it on page 1 a “guide for employees who are tired of their bad leaders.” What exactly do you tell your readers about dealing with bad managers and team leaders?
That they can really get rid of it if they want to. But that requires a strategy. If you open up too quickly in those situations, you’ll just walk into a trap.
And the book helps people not to fall into that trap?
Sure. The book begins by quoting some great management thinkers about good and bad management. Then follow 10 qualities of bad managers and 8 effects thereof on the employees. I also discuss 5 blocks employees experience from doing something against bad managers. To do this, employees need to know what is important to such managers. You don’t get anywhere with anyone if you don’t know their interests. So the book offers an analysis that provides insight into their strategies and ultimately answers the question of how to make sure their games are punctured. So that they are sent away and teams no longer have to be weighed down by self-centered ambition instinct.
Nice word, ambition instinct.
Yes. Because it says exactly what ambition is. It’s an instinct. Nothing more or less. Biology teaches that a high place in the hierarchy gives better chances of survival. Your position in the reproductive market is a lot better, and you are also at the forefront of food. The status of alpha male or female is so attractive for a reason. And if it’s like that in our biology, and has to do with reproduction, it quickly becomes an instinct or an unconscious drive.
Okay, it’s time to get rid of these bad managers. How exactly does that work?
All right, let’s take a look at those management thinkers first. People like Steve Jobs, Stephen Covey, Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Ricardo Semmler and Henry Mintzberg. Big names. What do they say, one by one, all of them? That you have to put your people first and make them important. That you should trust them. That you have to be visible to them. Don’t be authoritarian, but be honest and clear. Give them space and responsibility. In short, treat them like full-fledged professionals and really take them seriously.
And that’s not what the bad manager does, you’re going to say.
No. He is concerned with other things. He legitimizes himself with his results and if they are not good, he devises a plan to shift the responsibility to others. Mostly the employees are his escape then. To do that, he must have some rather nasty qualities. If you can even call it qualities.
In my book I mention no less than 10 traits. I took them from my experience in workplaces, but the quotes from management thinkers helped. Sometimes you need some theoretical support to substantiate your practical observations. You wonder if you actually see what you mean to see. You doubt. Is it all less negative than I think? You need the X-ray glasses of experience to see through the games being played. And even then there can always be something that eludes you.
But you do recognize the pattern after a while. As an employee probably earlier, but as a manager of the bad manager unfortunately a bit later, so that the bad manager stays in place for an unnecessarily long time. The shop floor has long since realized that the bad manager does not show his face in the workplace, that he listens badly and does not try to bond with them. Specialists are not given the space to develop ideas when he is there, let alone to implement them.
Their behavior is authoritarian and there is only room for discussion when the bad manager needs information for his personal ambitions. Honesty is not a value to him or her, there are no clear expectations, because you always have to be held accountable for something when things go wrong, even if it was never expected of you. This has to do with shifting responsibility if targets are not met. That is also a feature of the BM, the bad manager.
Motivated people are useful, but the BM knows only one motivator for his people. Fear. Behind the scenes they threaten with dismissal, deny that if they are called to account, identify areas for improvement that are unjustified, in short: they pull out all the stops that are morally objectionable.
Do these kind of people really exist?
You don’t want to know how many people have said after reading my book that they once had or still have such a boss. So yes, they exist. In my book I linked an age to it, but I wouldn’t do that anymore.
Young and inexperienced. In the meantime however, I’ve heard dozens of stories about BM’s of older age. I think it’s a personality issue and has nothing to do with age.
How do these people manage to stay in a job for so long?
Because they are very good at playing the ideal guy or girl when they talk to managers above them but being a devil for their employees. In the first two years they achieve their targets with threat. After that it goes downhill with the reputation, but the BM will blame that on his employees for at least another two years. Then he is already in the fourth or fifth year. When things go wrong, he manages to perpetuate the myth for a while that he is ahead of his troops, that he wants to go too fast and the team is too slow. Then the BM often gets a coach.
With a bit of bad luck, the management above them will also change. Then they will last a little longer, because a new manager does not see through the BM just like that. This is especially annoying because it doesn’t remain without consequences. Employees get a lot on their mind. The threat of an unjustified negative assessment or even dismissal does not make things any safer.
Then the work often has to be done with fewer people, while more work is created. If employees complain about this, the BM thinks they should work more efficiently. Meanwhile, the content of their work deteriorates. For example, contact with customers is no longer allowed; account managers and service centers are coming in. Of course, this makes money for the company, because an atrocious job leads to a lower salary.
Employees are not listened to as long as the BM is there. Their influence on the approach is reduced to zero at BM’s. They are treated like servants, like infants. When they criticize, they are blamed to be negative. If you confront your employees long enough with these types of managers, they will sour on their own and you will end up with those unruly and unapproachable people who are no longer open to anything.
Isn’t that their own responsibility?
Sure, but we shouldn’t underestimate the effect of environments on people. What do you think will happen when people have no influence at all and are treated like little children, while knowing more about the work than those who treat them like little children? You either become very docile or very rebellious. The effects of BM’s on employees are disastrous. And directors and managers shout out loudly that they want their people to be proud of their organizations, so I think they don’t want such disastrous effects.
Actually, I wish the managers of bad managers were more attentive. Talk to employees regularly, demand from your supervisors what the management thinkers demand, and be wary of phrases like “I’m ahead of my team.” Being ahead of the troops is simply bad management.
Because it is the art of management to take people along and help them achieve a better result. That is your added value as a manager. A manager who is constantly ahead of his employees misses one of the most important quality of leadership. We all can wave with excel sheets to impress people but no one is motivated by that. Moving people forward, that’s what it’s all about. In other words: it’s not about perfuming your delicious ego, but about the fun of bringing a team a step further than they would be without you.
Okay. But how do you put an end to your BM misery?
Think carefully about how you can let him fall. Usually he comes in the crosshairs when there are bad results or when a team as a whole is protesting against a manager. So form a coalition with your colleagues. Agree that no one will do anything extra, keep production low and cherish the 9 till 5 mentality. Demonstrate good behavior to the BM’s colleagues and supervisors. Don’t ever complain openly about your boss to your boss’s boss, but do it subtly, in parentheses. Your criticism should be about his absence from the workplace, that he listens poorly, that he magnifies incidents, and doesn’t know exactly how the process works, which is usually the case with the bad manager. Also make sure you communicate well with your Works Council.
This is not easy
No. You have to stay in control. Don’t overreact. Think carefully before you say or do anything. And realize that a BM is a born gossip. You should realize that if you’ve said something that he doesn’t like, he takes immediate action. He will talk nasty about you to the layers above him and sometimes even to your co-workers.
You should drop your empathy. If you want to understand the BM’s destructive behavior out of sociability you really dig your own grave. So get rid of your warm and human sides when he is there. Be careful not to let your kindness drive you crazy. Rather use your charm and human sides to improve the network that will leads to his end on the workplace.
Why are you frowning?
I don’t know. There is certainly something interesting in the things you say and I also find your book funny, but I find it difficult to really get rid of someone deliberately.
(Getting fierce) In companies, dozens of people are sometimes weighed down by one arrogant jellyfish that has a brilliant ability to stay put. He uses all means to do so. Gossip and scaremongering, doing absolutely nothing with people’s feedback, seeing others as pieces of shit. I have completely lost my pity for the BMs. They have a lot to learn, and without a bad experience they won’t learn.
I once witnessed a BM who could play his game well into old age, and visibly enjoyed it. Shiny eyes and a smile on his face when he said to an employee, that he might have to look for another organization. He would say that there were reasons to believe that the employee was not functioning properly. But it had nothing to do with the qualities of the employee. It was all about money. This BM wanted to get rid of some people. It is then really false to play it on the functioning of a well-meaning employee. There’s a very dirty ethic behind it.
I find the BM behaviour annoying for the many good managers that I have met. They sometimes don’t even have the ability to instill confidence in their people because their predecessor was a BM. The climate is completely rotten and the team excludes every future manager. And that’s not what you want. Good management is really an art and has beauty when it succeeds. Ultimately, this book is not about bad management, but gives tips on how to manage a team well.